Gerhard Herzberg


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(1904–1999) Canadian spectroscopist

Born in Hamburg, Herzberg was educated at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin. He taught at the Darmstadt Institute of Technology from 1930 until 1935 when, with the rise to power of the Nazis, he emigrated to Canada where he was research professor of physics at the University of Saskatchewan from 1935 until 1945. He returned to Canada in 1948 after spending three years as professor of spectroscopy at the Yerkes Observatory, Wisconsin. From 1949 until his retirement in 1969 he was director of the division of pure physics for the National Research Council in Ottawa.

Herzberg is noted for his extensive work on the technique and interpretation of the spectra of molecules. He has elucidated the properties of many molecules, ions, and radicals and also contributed to the use of spectroscopy in astronomy (e.g., in detecting hydrogen in space). His work includes the first measurements of the Lamb shifts (important in quantum electrodynamics) in deuterium, helium, and the positive lithium ion.

Herzberg has written a number of books, notably the two classic surveys Atomic Spectra and Atomic Structure (1937) and Molecular Spectra and Molecular Structure (4 vols. 1939–79). He received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1971 for his “contributions to the knowledge of electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals.”

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — History of the Americas.

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